IRVIN v. UPPER SOUTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE ON 7/13/16. 7/14/16 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
UPPER SOUTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP,
RONALD MACPHERSON and
July 13, 2016
In this § 1983 action, Scott Irvin claims that Upper Southampton Township,
Police Chief Ronald MacPherson, and Township Manager Joseph Golden violated his
First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in depriving him of his property interest in his
pension rights. 1 He contends they did so in retaliation for his speaking out about a
Township practice of forcing injured police officers to return to duty while still injured. 2
He asserts that they denied him his “earned pension benefits.” 3
After serving twelve years as a Township police officer, Irvin resigned. 4
Following his resignation, he did not file, as required by Pennsylvania law, 5 a notice of
his intention to collect his pension at retirement age and to leave his contributions in the
fund until then. 6 After the time for filing his intention had expired, the Township returned
his contributions together with interest. 7
The defendants have moved to dismiss the action. Their principal argument is
that the lawsuit is barred by a settlement agreement between Irvin and the Township.
In the agreement, Irvin released all claims arising out of his employment with the
Township. 8 Because the facts are undisputed, we converted the motion to dismiss to a
motion for summary judgment. 9 We conclude that because Irvin’s current claim for
pension benefits arises out of his employment with the Township, the settlement
agreement bars this action.
Irvin resigned his position as a Township police officer on February 26, 2015,
claiming he was constructively discharged. 10
Several days later, he instructed the
Township to direct any further communications to his attorney. 11 On June 25, 2015,
after several months of negotiations, Irvin and the Township reached a monetary
settlement. 12 The Township also agreed to dismiss outstanding disciplinary charges
against Irvin. 13
In return, Irvin released all claims arising by reason of his
employment, 14 except “claims under and pursuant to the Pennsylvania Worker’s
Compensation Act and/or the Heart and Lung Act.” 15
Prior to his resignation, Irvin had complained to private citizens about police
department policies. 16
He alleges that after signing the settlement agreement, the
Township received a letter criticizing MacPherson and the Township. 17 In retaliation,
Irvin claims, the defendants unlawfully divested his pension benefits.
When he resigned, under Pennsylvania law, Irvin had the choice to vest and wait
to receive his pension upon reaching retirement age or to withdraw his contributions
with interest. 18 If he elected to vest and wait, he was required to notify the pension
board of his intention to vest within ninety days of his resignation. 19 Irvin did not file
written notice of his intent to vest. 20
Eight months after Irvin resigned, Township Manager Joseph Golden requested
an actuarial service to calculate Irvin’s pension payout. 21 The following month, the
Township notified Irvin’s counsel of the calculated payout. 22
The Township then
remitted his contributions. 23
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate if the movant shows “that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and [that] the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Judgment will be entered against a party who fails to
sufficiently establish any element essential to that party's case and who bears the
ultimate burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
In examining the motion, we must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's
favor. InterVest, Inc. v. Bloomberg, L.P., 340 F.3d 144, 159-60 (3d Cir. 2003).
The dispositive issue is whether Irvin released his pension-related claims when
he executed the settlement agreement. We find that he did.
Our primary task in interpreting the release, like any other contract, is to
determine the intent of the parties. Truserv Corp. v. Morgan's Tool & Supply Co., 39
A.3d 253, 260 (Pa. 2012). When the language is clear and unambiguous, we discern
the parties’ intent based on the common and plain meaning of the words used. Id.
Effect must be given to all the provisions in the contract. Murphy v. Duquesne Univ. of
the Holy Ghost, 777 A.2d 418, 429 (Pa. 2001).
We construe a clear and unambiguous contract as a matter of law. Trizechahn
Gateway LLC v. Titus, 976 A.2d 474, 483 (Pa. 2009). When a contract is ambiguous, it
is for the factfinder to ascertain the parties' intent. Id. Merely because the parties
interpret a contract differently does not mean it is ambiguous.
Espenshade, 729 A.2d 1239, 1242 (Pa. Super. 1999). Only where the contract
language is capable of being reasonably understood in more than one sense is it
ambiguous. Ins. Adjustment Bureau, Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 905 A.2d 462, 468-69 (Pa.
Irvin and the defendants disagree on the meaning of the release language. The
settlement agreement provided that Irvin released “all actions, claims, demands,
damages, obligations, liabilities, controversies and executions of any kind or nature
whatsoever, whether known or unknown, whether suspected or not, which have arisen,
or may have arisen, or shall arise by reason of Irvin's employment with Upper
Southampton Township.” 24
The defendants argue the phrase “by reason of Irvin’s employment” covers all
claims “related” to Irvin’s “status as a former Township employee.”25 They maintain that
Irvin’s pension-related claim arises out of his status as a former Township police officer.
Thus, they contend, the claim is barred by the release in the settlement agreement. 26
Irvin contends the release is limited to claims arising during the course of his
employment. 27 Relying on the definitions of “reason” and “employment” in Black’s Law
Dictionary, he argues the release is “confined to matters arising from Irvin's state of
being employed or grounded in a dispute between Irvin and his employer.” 28
contends that because he was no longer employed when the Township remitted his
pension contributions and failed to notify him of his obligation to advise the pension
board that he intended to vest his pension, his claims “cannot be said to arise by reason
of his employment, but rather by reason of his lack of employment.” 29
Irvin’s pension-related claims arise by reason of his status as a former Township
employee. In Pennsylvania, “the nature of retirement provisions for public employees is
that of deferred compensation for services actually rendered in the past.” Larsen v.
Senate of Com. of Pa., 154 F.3d 82, 92 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Com. ex rel. Zimmerman
v. Officers & Employees Ret. Bd., 461 A.2d 593, 597 (Pa. 1983). Irvin’s pension was a
benefit of his employment. He contributed to the pension throughout his twelve years of
employment. The “deferred compensation” Irvin now seeks accrued during his years of
employment with the Township. 30 A claim for pension benefits arises from Irvin’s former
employment with the Township. Therefore, the release in the settlement agreement
included Irvin’s current claims.
Even if the release does not bar his claims, the Township is still entitled to
summary judgment. Irvin seeks to impose a duty upon the Township that does not
exist. The Township had no obligation to advise him of his rights and duties under the
Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement Law. 31
Irvin was required to notify the pension board of his election in writing. 32 He did
not notify the pension board of any election.
Instead, he belatedly advised the
Township that he intended to vest after the statutory time to notify the pension board
had expired. In short, the Township did nothing to deprive Irvin of his pension rights nor
did it interfere with or impede his rights.
This action is barred by the release in Irvin’s settlement agreement. Even if it
was not, there is no actionable claim for a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. Therefore, we shall grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
Irvin also brings state-law claims for unjust enrichment and violation of 53 P.S. § 774, which
states, “No person participating in a police pension fund established pursuant to the provisions of this act,
who becomes entitled to receive a benefit therefrom, shall be deprived of his right to an equal
proportionate share therein upon the basis upon which he first became entitled thereto.”
Compl. (Doc. No. 1) ¶ 17.
Id. ¶ 1.
Joint Facts (Doc. No. 9) ¶¶ 1, 2.
53 P.S. § 881.213.
See Joint Facts at ¶ 6.
Id. ¶ 7.
Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. B (“Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release”) (Doc. No. 4-2) ¶ 7; Joint
Facts ¶ 4.
Order (Doc. No. 8).
Joint Facts ¶¶ 1, 2.
Id. ¶ 3.
Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release ¶¶ 2-3.
Id. ¶ 6.
Id. ¶ 7; Joint Facts ¶ 4.
Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release ¶ 10.
Compl. ¶¶ 16-17.
Id. ¶ 29. Although Irvin does not claim that the criticism related to policies about which Irvin
had previously complained, we assume it did. Otherwise he could not claim retaliation based on it.
53 P.S. § 881.213.
Joint Facts ¶ 6.
Mot. to Dismiss, Undisputed Facts (Doc. No. 4) ¶ 7 (incorrectly numbered as the second ¶ 5).
Id. ¶ 9 (incorrectly numbered as ¶ 7).
Joint Facts ¶ 7.
Settlement Agreement and Mutual Release ¶ 7.
Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 4) at 6-7.
Resp. (Doc. No. 6) at 6-8.
Id. at 6.
Id. at 7.
See 53 P.S. § 881.213.
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